Episode 11 – The Art of Living and Loving with Kathryn Boxill
Toby Dorr: Hello and welcome to Fierce Conversations with Toby, the show where we talk about the hard things. I’m Toby Dore. In today’s episode, we’ll embrace the art of living and loving through letting go. Our guest today is Kathryn Boxill. Living out loud, enthusiast foodie, Howard University, bison radio producer and host Catherine encourages us all to live our soulful purpose with abundance of love, grace, courage, and fun. Hi Catherine. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Kathryn Boxill: Hello and thank you for having me.
Toby Dorr: It’s such a delight always to see your happy face. And we have our matching t-shirts, but we’ll talk more about that here.
Kathryn Boxill: We came prepared. We knew the assignment.
Toby Dorr: We did, didn’t we? We were right on top of it. So, I’d like to ask all my guests a question that kind of gives us a peek into who they are.
Toby Dorr: What’s your favorite color and what does that say about you?
Kathryn Boxill: My favorite color. So, my favorite color initially was purple, and then orange came into the fold. Um, for similar reasons, but different reasons. But I’ll focus on the purple since that was the first one. And that was because purple is just this rich. Vibrant, beautiful color. And whenever I looked at it, it just made me feel good. And so then years passed by and I actually looked up like what the meaning of purple is and they had royalty and nobility and luxury. And then it also mentioned the people who love it are intuitive and enjoy being on the spiritual path. And so after reading that, I was like, okay, well it’s clear why I was drawn to the color purple because all of those things I believe are what makes up me to a degree.
Toby Dorr: I think you’re right and purple is a pretty powerful color and surprisingly, I think it’s been the most favorite of all my guests so far,
Kathryn Boxill: Yeah.
Toby Dorr: which, which I found pretty surprising. Most people pick blue or you know, some common color, but purple I think is bold and out there and I love it.
Kathryn Boxill: And people who love purple, love purple, usually like they really incorporate the purple. They have purple this, purple, that purple…
Toby Dorr: That’s so true. They surround themselves with purple and there’s so many shades. You can go from something really soft and relaxing to something just that makes you get up and move. I love that. So, can you tell us about a crossroads in your life that pushed you in a different direction?
Kathryn Boxill: Hmm, that’s a good question. I would have to say the crossroads for me was making the decision to go to Howard University. I had got my acceptance letter at the very last hour. So much so I thought I was going somewhere else. I was all prepared to go somewhere else, and then I got the acceptance letter and it was a no-brainer and I had to immediately pivot. And why it’s such a major crossroads for me is because even right now, I’m sure I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, Toby, doing this interview if. If I hadn’t gone to Howard, I would’ve went on some other different path and it’s just been a major influence in my life.
Toby Dorr: It has, it is an important part of your life, and I know that you’re still involved in the Alumni Association pretty heavily, and I love hearing all the Howard stories.
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely. Yeah, I’m involved with the alumni band organization. I’m the coordinator and have been for some years. I was in the marching band at Howard and I played the alto saxophone. And so, you know, with that also as a result of being in the band, I pledge an organization called Tab Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority. So that further solidified my, um, Participation and love of Band of Music musicianship and of sisterhood and Buf (Howard Buffalos) Brotherhood.
Toby Dorr: I love that. I think sisterhood and brotherhoods are so important. And that actually leads into my next question because you and I met two years ago, we were randomly placed into an author group at a seminar that we went to, and there were six of us in that group and we were all working on memoirs, and we really created this really deep, meaningful, supportive relationship. In fact, this past October, we all went to stay in a cottage in Maine on the coast, on the beach. And it’s the first time I had seen, I had met you because luckily I’d moved to DC and we were close enough to get together, but none of the rest of us had ever met in person. And we’d been meeting for a couple hours a week, every week for two years. So how important is it to have that supportive network in your life?
Kathryn Boxill: It’s extremely important. I think life is all about community, and all about engaging with people and being able to bring to the space your individual way of moving. Being your wisdom, personality. And so I think it’s very important and I’ve really enjoyed the comradery and con connection that we’ve been able to establish.
Toby Dorr: I have too. And you know, I think the most beautiful thing, and I found this in prison as well, it’s the only place in my life I found it, but, when you’re having a bad day or when you’re in a slump and you just need that extra little push, you know you can get it. You know you can get lifted up by the women in that group, and I just think it’s such a beautiful thing.
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely.
Toby Dorr: Luckily for you and I, we’re less than an hour’s drive away from each other now, and you had this brilliant idea about a year ago that we should get together once a month and have a working session, which we just sit, we talk, but we just sit there and work on our own things. And I think that having a working partner really helps hold you accountable. So how has that affected your productivity?
Kathryn Boxill: Oh, I mean, it’s been a blessing. It’s been a blessing, especially for me and, you know, you know, my situation that I’ve been going through, in terms of caregiving for my dad and then losing my dad and then shortly afterwards losing my mom. And so, you know, with life, oftentimes you need that support group or that accountability partner to kind of lift you up and be there for you. So us getting together to have our writing dates has been hugely, important in in motivating me because you are very inspiring and motivating, Toby. So it’s just great to be able to get together with you, but it’s nice to get out and get in a space, a different space that can also prompt some creativity and movement and have some fresh ideals and to be able to do it with someone who’s going on a similar journey as well.
Toby Dorr: I never know what I’m gonna work on when I go, but one day I just decided to redesign my whole logo with your input. So it’s just fun how bouncing ideas off of someone really makes a difference.
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely.
Toby Dorr: So you mentioned your dad, which is really what I wanted to get to in this podcast. And your dad, who we all knew as Pop. The man, the myth, the legend. I saw him wearing a t-shirt on your blog with that on his shirt. tell us about Pop and what made him a myth and a legend.
Kathryn Boxill: Pop, you know, Pop was, is a special man. His first name is Enric. Quentin Boxell. He is from Trinidad and he had come from Trinidad to Harlem, New York in the fifties. And with his sisters and mom and everything. Met my mom in Harlem, they married. Moved to Brooklyn and then had me and my brother and, you know, while my dad was not a perfect man, as many aren’t, he was beautiful in the way he was able to engage as a family man in his own way. I can feel, his love, his presence and all that he did in terms of supporting me, being one of my biggest cheerleaders. Me just being inspired by him to want to be better and do better, to make him proud, of course, but then also for me to be a better person and to live my purposeful life.
Toby Dorr: Yes. I think that’s beautiful. I know my dad was a huge part of my life too, and he died of cancer. That’s the same thing that you had to deal with too. And I think that word cancer just takes everyone’s breath away, but how did Pop deal with it?
Kathryn Boxill: Wow. Honestly, you wouldn’t have even known he had it. That’s how amazing he was. My dad was 90 years old when he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Started in the colon, moved to the lung and liver, I believe. And just by the nature of his personality and who he was, and is, I like to always say is still, you wouldn’t have known. He still laughed a lot. He joked a lot. He sang a lot. He whistled a lot. You know his wisdom. And being able to just talk about life. I noticed during that time he wanted to talk more about family and life and things that went on, um, in family, which was very great because it’s always nice to get family history. But even in the midst of, I’m sure the pain that he was going through, I was a caregiver, so I would say he was a great patient. You know, I hear other people’s stories of their caregiving and, and mine was easy. He wanted to be very still self-sufficient and again, this is a 90 year old man that has stage four cancer. He, really fought in a very special and beautiful and also engaging way because, not only was he engaging with me, but I would always hear him on the phone. He was always calling people to say hi, you know, whether it was family members or friends. I continued to be engaged and continued to be that cheerleader for him and he was just such a spirited warrior. He was through that process.
Toby Dorr: I think that’s beautiful and so your decision actually was to bring Pop from Brooklyn to live with you in your home the last few years of his life. And you know, helping someone leave this world is not for the faint of heart, but I believe it can be a beautiful thing. Did you find beauty in those years?
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely! Absolutely and it actually wasn’t a few years, it was real quick. It was really a year and a couple of months. Because he came in September of 2019 and he passed Christmas day of 2020. So it was a year and a couple of months. And absolutely it was beauty. It was beauty just based on the things that I just mentioned in terms of how he was, it was beauty for me of being able to be there for him in a way that if you’d told me a few months before he came that this was gonna be our life, I’d have been like, you’re crazy. And then also for me to be caring for a person, in the way that I had to was such a gift for me to give back to him, for all the things and ways that he’s been there for me and my family.
Toby Dorr: You know, life has an amazing way of coming full circle. I know I was with my mother when she died. We brought her home, she’d been sick, she also had cancer, and, we brought her home to her home to die. She said to me, she had a book next to her bed and she said, oh, Toby, I’ll never know how my story ends. And I said, well, mom, I could read your book to you. We had ten days. And during that time, I read every minute I could, and it was a pretty big book and I was determined that I was gonna finish that book for her. And I would sit and read and I was just sure she was totally out of it.You know, her eyes were closed, she was somewhere else. But I kept reading and I thought, you know, this is kind of silly. I’m reading and she can’t even hear me. And then she’d say something like, “Don’t do it!” So I knew she was following along the storyline and it just felt like such a gift and it made me think about all the times when I was a child and my mother read to me. And I just think it’s a beautiful thing that life gives us that we can, you know, be a caregiver to our parent as they’re leaving this world. It just is such a beautiful gift.
Kathryn Boxill: And you said it perfectly when you said a full circle moment, cuz it definitely is a full circle moment. And it’s funny when you just talked about your mom yelling out randomly, don’t do it, you know, in that last week of my dad being here, the week before he passed, my dad, like I said, he was doing pretty well. Of course he had had his moments where, he would get sick or things would happen, but overall he was good. And then the week before he passed, he just took a turn like that. But one day in the midst of starting to have to give him morphine and everything. He started having these random outbursts. And one day he yelled out, “Is this train vacant?” Now he’s laying in the bed. And again, he’s not really talking. But he randomly yells out, is this train vacant? And I remember looking up at him like, “Oh, so the train thing, that is a thing.”
Toby Dorr: Yes. Isn’t it interesting?
Kathryn Boxill: I’m sure your mom, although you felt she might not have been listening I’m sure she was, and even in his moments, I’m sure he was.
Toby Dorr: Yes, I think in those moments, they’re…
Kathryn Boxill: beginning to travel
Toby Dorr: Yes.
Kathryn Boxill: and called upon. And so the yelling out is this train vacant thing. I was like, whoa, this train thing is really a thing.
Toby Dorr: I found it to be really reassuring because my mom said to me, your dad and Father Davin are waiting right outside that door for me, And I thought, I wanna be able to see them. I wish I could see what she sees.
Kathryn Boxill: Yeah.
Toby Dorr: It seemed like a beautiful experience and I’d never felt from her that she feared it at all. She was joyously moving forward. And I think that’s a beautiful gift that you can give someone at the end of their life.
Kathryn Boxill: Yeah. Yeah.
Toby Dorr: So how has that experience of being a caregiver for your father and helping him leave this world, how has that experience changed your life?
Kathryn Boxill: It’s changed my life. I think in some ways I’m still trying to figure that out. While it’s been a couple of years, that still hasn’t been a long time. I think one way it changed me in a good way is knowing that I can have the capacity to be there for someone. I haven’t been married, I don’t have children, so, you know, I’ve led a pretty kind of independent life of not having to be this person to 24/7, be caring for someone. So that was a beautiful experience for me and to be able to be there for someone in that way and know that I have it in me.
Toby Dorr: Yeah, that is a beautiful lesson to learn.
Kathryn Boxill: that was a good thing for me and a good thing to take me out of my regular today, again, doing what I do, but, being more selfless, and knowing that I can do that and knowing that I have the strength to do that. Um, and so. That’s one way that it definitely impacted me in a positive way. Now, you know, to what you were saying, caregiving can be a lot. And so in other ways that now I’m still processing is that care giving can be very heavy.
Toby Dorr: Yes, it is heavy.
Kathryn Boxill: It could be very heavy, and very traumatizing. The lasting effects, um, could be PTSD just by the nature of while I said it was dad, made it very easy. But at the same time, there were things that were going on that I witnessed and had to deal with. And then the other part of that is, and I didn’t really process this really until later, is that of course I knew I was bringing him back to Brooklyn and knowing that I wanted to create for him quality of life. But at the same time, it’s like, Wow, I’m doing this with the knowing that this person is going to die eventually and, and not knowing when that’s gonna happen or how that’s gonna happen. And so in the midst of wanting to create that quality of life and to be there for them, you know, you have in the back of your head that you know something’s gonna happen and it could be next week.
Toby Dorr: Right?
Kathryn Boxill: Or it could be two years from now, I dunno, but I’m gonna keep pushing. But you know that something’s gonna happen and that is definitely a heavy thing to carry.
Toby Dorr: It is a heavy thing to carry. And you know, I’m not sure we ever get over losing a parent or even another loved one, but I can remember my mom has been gone for almost nine years now, and the other day I was walking through the kitchen and life was great and I was feeling good, and all of a sudden this heaviness came and I just kind of slumped. My husband noticed, he said, “Toby, what’s going on?” And I said, “I miss my mother”. I mean, it just hit me like that and I just wanted to call her and knowing you can’t do it and it’s so difficult.
Kathryn Boxill: Yeah.
Toby Dorr: So what advice do you have for those who are facing the loss of a parent?
Kathryn Boxill: I think the biggest advice is to continue to explore ways to honor and appreciate who they were and the relationship that you had with them. The other thing is, is to allow yourself to feel,
Toby Dorr: Yeah, that’s an important one.
Kathryn Boxill: To grieve. Allow yourself to mourn. Oftentimes with life, people, wanna keep moving. And I gotta go back to work. I gotta go, I gotta do this. And rightfully so. We have our responsibilities, but in the midst of that, we should be comfortable to be able to process those feelings and deal with how you’re feeling and grieve them in real time. Because that will only make you a better person down the line. A freer person, cause the goal with all of that is freedom,
Toby Dorr: Yes.
Kathryn Boxill: Down the line to be free, and not have this heaviness that sometimes people might know that they are carrying. It could be subconscious, but they’re carrying it because they haven’t dealt with the emotions and feelings of it all. And with that just making sure you have people who you consider your safe space.
Toby Dorr: That is important.
Kathryn Boxill: Because oftentimes people might not do it because they might not feel safe to do it around people, you know, get a therapist, which could be very important. And find those people you consider your safe space that you can cry to and go to their place or invite them to your place. You can just have those moments where you might just sit and not say anything, but, there’s comfort in that.
Toby Dorr: And there’s no deadline to grief, there’s no rule book that says you have one year to get over it.
Toby Dorr: And you know, they just have these seven steps. I don’t, it just is what it is. And I don’t care what step I’m in or if I go out of order, I haven’t even read those seven steps. I just kind of feel my way through it and listen to what my body’s telling me and what I need to do. And sometimes I just need a hug. Sometimes I need to just go and pick up a book that I knew my mom loved and read it and feel like she’s there with me. So I think it’s different for every situation and every person, but the important thing is to be aware. That it does take time and you will never be completely over it, but give yourself that time. Don’t feel like you have to stand up tall and be strong and shoulder the world. You need to feel. It’s really important.
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely. And I would say to those, to people who know, who know someone who’s potentially grieving is to keep that in mind. Because, sometimes people might not know what to say or how to deal with a situation, but the best gift that you can give to someone who’s grieving is that space to grieve and not want to rush them and push them or question them or potentially shame them for still being in a space of grieving. Even if it’s a year or two or three. Cause everyone’s journey is a different journey
Toby Dorr: It is a different journey and, and I think, maybe one of the worst things you can say to someone is, I know how you feel because you can’t, everybody’s different. You can’t possibly know how someone else feels. You can empathize with them and you can be there for them in their grief, but, you can’t tell them how to do it.
Kathryn Boxill: Yeah. Yeah.
Toby Dorr: So you held a memorial service for Pop almost a year after he died. And I thought that was such a brilliant idea because we’re always in such a rush, get the funeral over with, get it done. Three days, move on. And I knew you during the time you were planning this memorial and I saw the love and the work that went into it and the embracing of everyone who knew him in their lives. And I don’t know that you would be ready for that in the first two or three days after a death. So, I love that you took the time. You were able to get past the rawness and get past that deer-in-the headlights-look, when you’re just so struck by grief and you don’t know what to do. I just thought that was a beautiful way to do it. So what drove that decision?
Kathryn Boxill: Covid.
Toby Dorr: Yeah.
Kathryn Boxill: Really it was covid that drove that, because of course when he passed, that was December 2020. So we were heavily in the midst of covid. I certainly didn’t want to plan something to bring people together with the potential of someone getting sick. And then even at that point when folks were having services, you could maybe only have like 15 people in the room or something like that. I was already very paranoid about Covid because caregiving a person during Covid was – oh my God, it was the worst. I was already going through the paranoia of not wanting to bring Covid home to my dad when he was here. So that was still a continuation. And it was just for safety reasons and it was a blessing. Because for every time then we were like, okay, maybe we’ll do it now. Then a new variant would come out. I’m gonna wait. But it was a blessing. I remember when my dad first passed and I was talking to one of my brothers, and I was telling him I wanted to wait. And he didn’t want to. And I just shared with them. “Who says we have to do this?” I know this is how people have been doing it. Someone dies. You have a service within one to two weeks. But who says we have to do it this way? And that was one thing that Covid was, kind of a blessing for, because just various things in our life. It showed us that we didn’t have to do it that way. It could be done differently and it could still be beautiful. It could be okay. People will be okay. You know, my family was okay, of course my dad’s sister, you know, every once in a while she’d be like, “So when???” and I understood where she’s coming from. She’s, old school, so I got it. But even she was okay about it. And the beautiful thing was we were able to do it exactly how we would want to do it and honor him, and that was the beautiful thing
Toby Dorr: I mean, it was a party, it was a party celebration of his life, and I think that’s beautiful. Maybe you started some new trend. I don’t know, but I really like that idea. I think it was perfect. So how do you keep Pop as a part of your life?
Kathryn Boxill: How do I keep Pop as a part of my life?
Toby Dorr: How do you keep him involved in your life?
Kathryn Boxill: Moments like this, being able to talk about him, being able to continue to celebrate him, you know, with my family. And have those moments where, we can share and talk about him. When his birthday comes along, it’s beautiful to be able to light a candle to buy a meal that, you know he would’ve loved. Like some oxtail and peas and rice or curry goat or something like that. So that in itself is a beautiful thing to be able to do.
Toby Dorr: I think that is beautiful. So what’s next for Kathryn? Perhaps a book about ‘the man, the myth, the legend.’
Kathryn Boxill: My my life has been a total transition period for me. I had the bright ideal to end the relationship with my job of almost 26 years last year. So I’m in the midst of grieving and then I make this other huge decision which put me in a whole ‘nother grieving space. That was a blessing too, in itself, because it just allowed me more time and room to grieve because even in the midst of that, my mother ended up passing. Like a week and a half after I stopped working. So it was, it was the perfect time for me to stop working and be able to deal with the multitude of emotions that I’ve had, you know, going on. And so, it’s definitely a very transitional life. Both of my parents have died, so they’re not here. I’m dealing with the emotions of not having my parents. Not having a job. I’m going through a bit of an identity crisis, so to speak. I can’t really speak to what, what is going to be next for me. Of course, you know, when I went to the writer’s seminar, I met you and the other group. My intentions at that time was to write a memoir about my dad and talk about caregiving and be able to support people in their care caregiving journey. But what I found, after a while is that I just wasn’t ready.
Toby Dorr: Right. It does take time to be ready.
Kathryn Boxill: I just wasn’t ready to dive into that. And so, you know this, but in the midst of that, I gifted someone who went to Howard, who’s at Howard now with a little guide to what I wish I had known when I had gone to Howard. And so after that I had a eureka moment that, oh, I can make this into a little guide. So I’ve been working on that. I plan to publish that and be a official author very soon. And then after that, we’ll, we will see where life takes me.
Toby Dorr: I love that. So your tagline is Be Do Love, tell us about that, and where did it come from?
Kathryn Boxill: Uh, BeDoLove was born out of being, I love to write. And being on social media some years ago gave me the opportunity to be able to write and express and share my feelings and emotions, and oftentimes that was inspiring to other people. And so then at one point I would write about my traveling. I love to dine out, and what I was noticing is people really loved seeing that. It made them feel good, you know, they loved to see me doing my thing. And so then at one point I was like, okay, well I’ll start to blog. And so it was like, well, what do I call my blog? So after I went through a number of different thoughts and suggestions, one day Be, Do Love just came to me. And, and from that I created the tagline, the Art of Living and Loving. And really it’s just about being able to share my experience of, of life, whether it’s caregiving, grieving. You know, what I’m going through in life that way, or whether I’m traveling or eating out at a really tasty, good restaurant. But ultimately being able to inspire people to what I call is living outside of their box.
Toby Dorr: Yeah, I love that.
Kathryn Boxill: Or living out loud and just day to day we have so much that we’re dealing with. You know, people have families, they have work, and sometimes it’s just one day to the next, just trying to deal from one thing to the to other. So if we can find ways to encourage each other to find those moments, to appreciate life and explore life and what that means for that person, cuz it’s not a one size fits all. Somebody might wanna write a book or somebody might wanna garden and that’s been their thing that they’ve been wanting to do, but just haven’t found a time to do. And so just being able to encourage and inspire people to be able to do those things, but then also to be able to be free again to, process life and what that means for them. From a feeling emotional healing type of way.
Toby Dorr: I love that. I love that. And I think BeDoLove just says it all. You can’t hardly go wrong with that.
Kathryn Boxill: That’s right.
Toby Dorr: So what’s one question you wish I’d asked? Is there something you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?
Kathryn Boxill: What’s one question I wish you’d asked? Probably Kathryn, how are you doing?
Toby Dorr: That’s an excellent question. So how are you doing?
Kathryn Boxill: Well, I said that because oftentimes, we we don’t ask people how are they are.
Toby Dorr: That’s true.
Kathryn Boxill: We might say, Hey, how you doing? But we’re not really asking how we doing, we’re just asking it. Cuz that’s just the normal flow of a conversation. I think it’s just so important to create space for people to really be able to share – how are you doing? For me in this moment I’m doing great cuz I’m talking to you, but I’m having a hard time, I’m in a difficult space and my brother Greg, he has this thing where he says, life is just life, in the one moment where, You know, you might feel like, okay, I’m doing good. I’ve taken a turn, and then something else comes to – it could be a trigger. You know, like you said the other day, you were just kind of and then all of a sudden the thoughts of your mom made you heavy or other things can, can happen in your life to, to, to kind of pull you back. And so, it’s been definitely a challenge for me in particular, I am a very emotional, I can be a very emotional feeling type of person, which is a great thing, but at the same time, it can be a little heavy and I’m just doing my best to have moments like this. Where I can engage, I can have a good time, I can contribute. And then just engage with family and friends and just enjoy life, be do love, as it says here, and too, in the midst of, again, the grieving. And what’s going on to be able to have that balance of enjoying life and doing the things I love and what makes me tick and appreciate life.
Toby Dorr: I love that, Kathryn. I think that’s beautiful. I might have to put that into my script for future podcasts because you’re right. We don’t really ask how people are doing and really mean it. I love that. Thank you so much for being here. I’m sure that you’ve given a lot of people things to ponder when they face this difficult decision of helping someone leave this world, and I think we can’t avoid it, so we should talk about it.
Kathryn Boxill: Absolutely, and I appreciate the time. Thank you so much, Toby, for thinking about me and having me on your – what is going to be a wonderful and flourishing – podcast.
Toby Dorr: Yes, I hope so. Thank you so much, Kathryn.
Kathryn Boxill: All right. Thank you, Toby.
Toby Dorr: Okay.
Kathryn Boxill: Take care.
Toby Dorr: All right. Thanks, Kathryn. Remember, none of us is our worst mistake. We all have so much more to offer the world, and often those so-called mistakes are really opportunities to learn and grow. Next week, we’ll continue to bring you inspiring stories by people who’ve identified a need for change. And are working to make a difference in the world. Subscribe to our Patreon channel, fierce Conversations. For Special Access and behind the scenes info, go to patreon.com/fierce conversations. Or click on the link in the show notes. 10% of the Patreon proceeds are dedicated to providing workbooks to women in prison. The show notes will also provide a link to Kathryn’s website so you can get to know her a little better. And a link to purchase my memoir, Living with Conviction. As I talk about in depth in my memoir, I had a conversation in prison where my friend Lisa told me “In here we can talk about all the hard things. In fact, I think we must.” And so we shall. This is Fierce Conversations with Toby. Where we talk about the hard things – until next time.